According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of college students experience frequent stress.
Frankly, I was surprised the number was this low. Walking through the UCSB library every day, all I can see are countless empty-eyed faces staring at their laptop screens with their notes piled beside them. Many of them will leave the library in an hour or two to rush to their jobs. There’s no doubt that college students are a segment of the population that experiences extremely high levels of stress throughout the academic year. When we think about it, it makes sense; stress is unavoidable when we’re juggling homesickness, social dramas, academic concerns, and financial woes. At times, it feels like we’re drowning in the anxiety that comes with so much responsibility.
But can this stress ever actually be good for us?
It seems unlikely, of course. When we think about stress, we usually consider it to be a bad thing. But believe it or not, experts say that moderate levels of stress can actually help us to be successful. Dr. Daniela Kaufer at UC Berkeley states, “Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the optimal level of alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.” It can even increase our problem-solving abilities and enhance our memory. We can refer to this sort of stress as “good stress.”
Good stress is especially relevant for college students. A study at Rochester University found that college students who view their stress as helpful rather than detrimental are more likely to succeed academically and be mentally healthy. Good stress can even boost our immune systems, which is increasingly important as we enter flu and cold season.
Kaufer and other experts say that the difference between “good” and “bad” stress is that good stress is intermittent as opposed to chronic. Stress should not be a constant lingering feeling, but rather a reaction to a brief event. In addition, the good stress will encourage us to work harder and increase focus towards a task, as it provides us with a short-term energy burst that makes challenging tasks seem more doable. Bad stress has the opposite effect; it is draining and will leave us feeling unmotivated and exhausted.
So how can we ensure that the stress we experience is good stress? Harvard Business Review offers several tips:
- View worry positively: Worry and the physical symptoms that come with it (such as the jitters) are merely a natural response to a situation; they are not a cause for panic or alarm. Worry, after all, is only a temporary feeling that shows how much we care, and like all feelings, it should be free from any negative associations.
- Reframe the stress: Instead of viewing a stressor as an obstacle or a threat, view it as a challenge. Imagine yourself working towards something as opposed to working against it, and picture stress as the little boost you need to achieve your goal.
- Get some experience: Put yourself in moderately stressful situations to “practice” and build up confidence for when real stressful events will come in the future. For example, if you’re anxious about a big exam, have a classmate make a practice exam for you to take.
Obviously, we can’t snap our fingers and have all of our bad stress melt away into good stress. Like all things relating to mental health, it takes time and effort to change how we view and utilize stress in our daily lives. However, recognizing the potential benefits of stress is an important first step in working toward stress management.
And, as always, if you are experiencing severe anxiety that interferes with your ability to perform daily tasks, consider reaching out for support. UCSB CAPS offers mental health services to UCSB students at no cost.
Original post HER CAMPUS by KENDALL ALBERT